The Houses of Parliament remain a very important part of England’s political affairs and, indeed, those of the entire United Kingdom (which comprises England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). When the Parliament of the United Kingdom meets, it is done in either the House of Lords or the House of Commons, making up the official Houses of Parliament.
The opulent Westminster Palace (as the Houses are also known) is located in the heart of London, on the banks of the River Thames, creating a gorgeous spectacle for locals and visitors. It is also right next to Big Ben and close to Westminster Abbey.
Originally, this site (then known as Thorney Island) was occupied by the first royal palace, as far back as the 11th century. This was appropriate as Westminster became the residential address of all of the English kings. St Edward the Confessor was responsible for this palace as well as for Westminster Abbey. He was the second-last Saxon ruler (of ancient Germanic origin) of England.
When the building began to be used for parliamentary discussions, it became clear that it had not been built for such purposes, and massive alterations were required to accommodate the various political representatives. These alterations occurred during the 1700’s as well as the early part of the following century. Then, in October 1834, an enormous fire broke out and destroyed much of the palace and its subsidiary buildings. All that survived were the Jewel Tower, Westminster Hall, the Undercroft Chapel and the Cloisters and Chapter House of St Stephen's.
After hasty plans to reconstruct and rebuild the Westminster Palace, the parliamentary chambers were ready by February 1835. There was enormous competition over who would rebuild the Houses of Parliament and, out of 97 proposals, Charles Berry was the successful candidate.
He chose an ornate Gothic style, which has proven to create an unforgettable spectacle along the Thames. Augustus Pugin was responsible for the plush interiors. Today, the Houses of Parliament are listed as a Grade I building (since 1970) and are part of a World Heritage Site, as deemed by UNESCO in 1987.
The Houses of Parliament have three main towers – 1) Victoria Tower, 2) Clock Tower and 3) Central Tower (in descending order of height). The Clock Tower is more commonly known as Big Ben.
The grounds of Westminster Palace are characterised by several smaller gardens, which are closed to the public, providing a private retreat for parliamentarians. The College Green is another of the Houses of Parliament’s gardens which is commonly used for television interviews. Inside, the building has 1 100 rooms, four storeys, 100 staircases and 4.8 kilometres (or three miles) of passageways.
Because these buildings and the Clock Tower are such an iconic part of English tourism, they are frequented by national and international visitors all through the year. For residents of any of the countries making up the United Kingdom, access is granted by their local member of parliament. For these ones, guided tours are conducted. Alternatively, visitors can queue to get in, but access is very limited and there is no guarantee of success.
For more information, please view: http://www.parliament.uk